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Commissioner Elizabeth Sele Mulbah Addresses NARDA Assembly on June 10, 2016

Governance Commission Vice Chair Madam Elizabeth Mulbah has called for the establishment of effective governance, management and accountability structures in Liberia that will, among other things, access secured funding to enhance civil society organizations (CSOs) ability to freely and constructively network and/or collaborate rather than compete with each other.

In her Key note Address at the New African Research and Development Agency’s (NARDA’s)  2016 annual Assembly which ran from June 10-11, Commissioner Mulbah made reference to the signed Government/CSOs Accord, a document which calls for CSOs empowerment, and highlights commitments by both government and CSOs to national growth and development. She noted that one sure way to empowering CSOs is through capacity building which enables them to contribute effectively to socio-economic and political development. Mrs. Mulbah observed that civil society organizations are at varying levels on what she referred to as “organizational development ladder” adding “this must claim the utmost attention of the Government, if the partnership is to blossom and bear fruit”.

Madam Mulbah urged both government to protect and preserve the partnership by creating the “enabling environment” for civil society organizations to maintain their independence and democratic space as well as facilitating the organizational development and access to resources. Commissioner Mulbah spoke under the theme “Government-Civil Society Organization Accord: from Theory to Practicum”. The Assembly’s general theme for 2016 was “Effective Partnership for Greater Impact”.

The Government-Civil Society Organizations Accord is a memorandum of understanding in which civil society organizations are aligned with Government’s development priorities to assist the Government in achieving those priorities. During the launch of the Accord by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in April this year, the President welcomed the partnership noting “this partnership can only yield win-win-win results for the Government, civil society organizations and the entire citizenry”. President Sirleaf said “the role of civil society organizations as development partners has never been given its due recognition and prominence until the 1990s when an NGO Policy was formulated”.

Of all the Government’s partners, civil society organizations are perhaps the most important and strategic in accelerating grassroots development. It is against this backdrop that Government is committed to strengthening the enabling environment within which civil society organizations can realize their potential and give impetus to Government’s myriad development programs including the Agenda for Transformation and the National Healing and Reconciliation Roadmap, both of which are already embedded in the framework of the National Vision 2030.

Observers believe that there is need for strengthening the enabling environment which  includes, broadening the space for civil society organizations to thrive as independent entities that exercise their civil liberties in a responsible manner; supporting the building of institutional and human capacity of civil society organizations so that they become more productive and effective partners with Government in the implementation of development programs; and assisting CSOs in their resource mobilization ventures.

Several outstanding personalities championed the establishment of the National CSO Council of Liberia and are still championing the cause for an empowered national CSO Council. These include NARDA’s Executive Director Lancedel Matthews, former Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh, Pesident Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mrs. Elizabeth Mulbah, and especially Dr. Amos Sawyer – Chairman of the Governance Commission. In fact it was the GC, MFDP, and CSO leadership that worked together tirelessly to develop the government/CSOs Accord launched by President Sirleaf at the Development Summit in April 2016.

Former Finance Minister Konneh on several occasions pledged the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning’s commitment to strengthening its partnership in national development, supporting CSOs comparative efforts in undertaking initiatives as well as serving as partners in advocacy and monitoring.

Dr. Amos Sawyer admits that as at 2006, civil society organizations were very highly visible, influential and dominant as service providers adding “as widespread as they were throughout the country, the need to regularize their functions and specializations within the framework of the state became apparent”. However, as donors returned and sought partners for collaboration, most CSOs became less specialized and more generalized, shifting everywhere there was funding. According to Dr. Sawyer, “their functions became more overlapping and unstructured thereby necessitating Government’s intervention through an improved approach to existing NGO regulations and strengthening of standards by which all CSOs including NGOs would operate as development partners with government.”

The Governance Commission held numerous consultations with CSOs over the years geared toward identifying and better understanding the landscape of NGOs and CSOs operations in Liberia as a basis for working with them on policy related issues and with the following objectives in mind.

  1. to establish and/or strengthen umbrella leadership structures with which CSOs can be Identified and categorized and, if possible, undertake collaborative engagements in the fifteen counties;
  2. undertake the mapping of CSOs in the fifteen counties and produce a CSO Directory;
  3. build leadership capacity in order to strengthen their rights-based approach to advocacy grounded in professional and technical knowledge, and
  4. develop with GoL an agreed framework for policy-based dialogues and consultations to strengthen democratic governance and national development.

It is important to note that, among other achievements, a National Civil Society Council was established in 2012 though still in need of significant capacity development and support to assure of the desired umbrella leadership and thematic competencies; an initial mapping of NGOS also undertaken in 2012 and arrangements for updating the directory of CSOs have started.

This GOL/CSOs Partnership Policy represents the collective agenda making our partnership more predictable and productive. The GOL/CSOs Accord highlights commitments, objectives, and general as well as specific actions of/for both government and CSOs (under their umbrella group NCSCOL).

The four objectives of the Accord are to:

  1. Create an enabling environment for the development of a viable civil society;
  2. Broaden and deepen participatory governance through the Liberian Government partnerships, citizens and development partners to build a society that is both inclusive and cohesive;
  3. Integrate the role of civil society organizations as strong, diverse and independent development partners of government in national development processes;
  4. Promote multi-sector approaches that amplify the voices of the poor and marginalized people in national development.

The GOL/CSOs Partnership seeks to institutionalize a framework for an active productive obligatory engagement between government and civil society that provides the enabling environment to consolidate existing and emerging new spaces into strongly accountable, inclusive citizens forums to broaden and deepen participatory governance in Liberia.

The signing of the memorandum of understanding by both parties reaffirms their commitment to work within the framework of the Partnership Policy and serves as a solemn commitment for conducting and directing future engagements.

Commissioner Mulbah’s full speech at the 2016 NARDA Annual Conference can be viewed on the GC website as well.

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